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The June 2003 deck collapse in Chicago is one of the most widely reported collapses on record. We have collected several stories and photos of the event.

Porch collapse kills 12 at Chicago party

Monday, June 30, 2003 Posted: 4:18 AM EDT (0818 GMT)

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) --Two wooden porches laden with college students collapsed during a party early Sunday, killing 12 people and injuring 57 others when they plunged into an alley, officials said.

Paramedics take a victim to a waiting ambulance early Sunday, June 29, 2003, after the overloaded third-floor porch of an apartment building collapsed during a party, sending people and debris crashing to the ground. (Photo: AP/Chicago Tribune, James Branaman)


Officials survey the damage. (Photo: AP/Chicago Tribune, James Branaman)
Engineers and city officials watch as demolition crews remove the remaining structure of a porch that collapsed during an early morning party on Sunday, June 29, 2003, in Chicago. The porch collapse, which occurred in a three-flat on the north side of the city, killed 12 and injured more than 50. (Photo: AP)
Investigators walk past the scene. (Photo: AP)
Engineers and city investigators examine the remaining structure. (Photo: AP)

As many as 50 people, mostly college-age partygoers, were crowded onto the second- and third-story porches of an apartment building when the top porch collapsed into the second and they both fell to the ground at around 12:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. EDT), officials said.

Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce said it was "a case of too many people in a small space."

"It is a tragic case of overloading the back porches," Joyce said. The commissioner expressed concern that more porches could be overloaded Sunday as the Gay Pride parade is held in the city. He urged people to "use common sense."

Heather Gillis was watching the party from a porch in an adjacent house when the collapse occurred.

"It wasn't like a delay or anything. It just went straight down," she said.

Fina Cannon, a young woman attending the party, told The Associated Press most of the guests were in their early 20s and many had graduated from New Trier High School in one of Chicago's northern suburbs. She said she was in the back kitchen and saw the collapse.

"All of a sudden I saw all these heads going down," Cannon said. "The floor just dropped out from underneath them. They all went down in unison."

Other witnesses told CNN that guests at the party gathered onto porches on three floors. As the top porch floor gave way, the flooring "pancaked" people onto the lower porches, one witness said.

"Total confusion. Total mayhem," said James Johnson, a neighbor who saw the porch collapse. "People in just total shock, not knowing what to do."

Chicago Emergency Management Director Cortez Trotter said the decking appeared to be "fairly new" but not strong enough to support the load of people. The rails of the wooden porch appeared to be intact, although the flooring was collapsed.

"We have not yet determined the number of people occupying the third floor porch, but clearly the construction could not maintain the load," Trotter said.

About 100 rescue workers responded to the call to the apartment building 2 miles south of Wrigley Field and a few blocks away from DePaul University.

Officials dispatched patients to several area hospitals to ensure that no one hospital was overloaded. Those most seriously hurt were taken to two level-one trauma centers -- five to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and 23 to Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital.

Chicago Office of Emergency Management spokesman Larry Langford said 11 people died at the scene; a hospital spokeswoman said a 12th person died at a hospital.

One woman arrived at Masonic without a pulse but was resuscitated and was in critical condition, said Dr. John Kirby. He appealed for help in identifying the 125-pound, 5-foot-5-inch woman in her 20s with sandy brown, shoulder-length hair, hazel eyes who was wearing dark jeans, an orange tank top and flats.

Four other patients were in serious but stable condition, Kirby said. Of the 18 remaining patients treated at the hospital, a handful were discharged. Of those who remained, "their injuries aren't as severe as the trauma patients'," he said.

Injuries "reflected what you would expect from someone that fell three stories," he said, citing bruises, multiple abrasions, contusions and fractures as the most common.

A number of the patients drove themselves or took taxis to the hospital, said Masonic's Dr. Sharolyn Medina. "I think all of them feel very lucky to be alive," she said.

Two men and three women, all of them in their 20s, were taken to Northwestern, a spokeswoman said. Three were treated and released and one was undergoing scans and tests. Another patient was admitted and was in fair condition, she said.

A number of other patients, all of them with minor injuries, were taken to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Lincoln Park, Saint Francis Hospital of Evanston, Saint Elizabeth's Hospital on Chicago's west side and Weiss Memorial Hospital on Chicago's north side.

Grief counselors from the city of Chicago were on hand for relatives, said Langford.

Chicagoans warned not to overload porches

City of Chicago Building Commissioner Norma Reyes said the building's owner, contacted in Canada, has hired a structural engineer to determine the cause of the failure. "We are currently conducting a thorough investigation into the history of this building as well as the cause of this terrible tragedy," she said.

The commissioner added that she warned Chicagoans last month in a news release "to be careful and watch how many people you have on the porches."

She appealed to residents to scrutinize their porches. "If anyone is out there, and you see a porch and you think that porch may be dangerous, please call 311," she said, giving the number for non-emergency city services.

Terry Hillard, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said the building site is being treated as a crime scene.

Detectives will interview survivors "so we can get a sense of what occurred last night, and what went wrong," Hillard said. "Thus far, there is no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever."

CNN Chicago Bureau Chief Jeff Flock contributed to this story.



Alumnus Killed in Chicago Deck Collapse

John Jackson (MSB 03) died when a deck collapsed at a Chicago party in the early morning hours of June 29, killing 13 people and injuring 57. He was 22.

The accident occurred shortly after midnight in Chicago's affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood when the floor on a third-story porch plummeted, crushing partygoers on the bottom two levels. Police said that as many as 50 people most in their mid-20s may have been on the porch when it collapsed. Jackson and the other guests had gathered in two apartments on the night of June 28 to visit with high school and college friends.

Jackson, a native of Kansas City, Mo., had begun working only five days earlier at Draper and Kramer, a prominent Chicago real estate firm. Jackson was staying with his sister, who was also at the party but escaped unharmed.

Funeral services were held for Jackson on July 3 at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Kansas City. Jackson is survived by his parents, Robert, a Kansas City pediatrician, and Linda, as well as two sisters, Lisa and Lindsey.

The Jackson family issued a statement saying that they were very grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the many friends and others who join them in mourning the tragic loss of their wonderful son, John.

At Georgetown, Jackson was a walk-on member of the sailing team during his freshman year and graduated in May with a business degree. During his junior year, Jackson studied overseas in New Zealand.

Friends remembered Jackson as an outdoorsman who, while in high school, climbed Mount Rainier in Washington and kayaked in Alaska.

Jackson graduated as a National Merit Scholar in 1999 from Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, where he was a member of the soccer team and the Spanish club.

Despite the tight job market, Jackson had landed a job in the research department of Draper and Kramer. He had the stuff, McKim Barnes, vice president for research and analysis at the firm, told KOLR-TV. There was a lot of competition for this position. He won because of his writing quality as well as his background ... I'm devastated.

All 13 people who died in the accident were between the ages 19 and 30.

The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of the apartment building for allegedly building the porch without the correct permits.

There are young people who you know are going to be great adults because of their skills, their personality and their emotional makeup, Richard Hibschman, principal at Pembroke Hill, told KOLR-TV, a CBS affiliate station in Springfield, Mo. He'd have been a great family man and a community leader."



Partygoers crushed to death by balcony collapse in Chicago

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Monday, 30 June 2003

At least 12 young people at a party in a trendy area of Chicago died yesterday when a wooden balcony collapsed.

The second-floor structure crushed partygoers on a balcony and a porch below when it fell into a basement stairwell.

The young people, in their early 20s, had taken over much of the building in the Lincoln Park district, just north of the city centre. Police said that as many as 50 people may have been standing or dancing on the balcony when it gave way.

Six men and six women died in the incident, according to the medical examiner's office. Most of those killed were on the lower floors.

One woman from North Carolina said she stepped on to the balcony as it fell. The woman, 24, who did not want to be named, said: "I took one step, maybe two and then I heard creaking and splitting and screaming. The most horrible screaming.

"I fell for a second - I was told 30 feet - then I had stuff on top of me like wood and also people below me. My right foot was caught for a second and I pulled it free.

"I opened my eyes and I looked up and I realised I was about four feet below the ground floor. Somebody from the party was there. I said, 'Please get me out, please get me out'. He grabbed my arm and then got me out."

The woman said she had four scrapes on the left side of her body and a few cuts. "I am just so lucky," she said.

Fiona Cannon was in a kitchen on the second floor when the balcony collapsed She said: "All of a sudden I saw all these heads going down. The floor just dropped out from underneath them. They all went down in unison."

Authorities said that 45 people were injured, 10 of them critically. By the time emergency services arrived at the scene, those at the party were panicking. James Joyce, the Chicago fire department commissioner said: "There was chaos. There were people screaming and crying in the alley."

Police believe that the party filled up as word spread around the neighbourhood that it was taking place. Many of those at the party had known each other for years and attended the same high school in Chicago's affluent northern suburbs.

Lincoln Park is a one-time working-class district with an old, rickety housing stock, now popular with students and young professionals because of its proximity to Lake Michigan and the city centre.

One neighbour familiar with the building, an orthopaedic surgeon called David Guelich, said that the balconies were built to hold no more than 20 to 30 people. Mr Joyce added: "It was simply a case of too many people in a small space."

The balcony collapsed shortly after midnight yesterday morning. By first light, television pictures showed the wooden rails of the second-floor balcony still in place. The floor, however, was shattered. Much of the wreckage had been cleared away, but witnesses described how casualties had become mangled in a mess of bricks, wooden planks and dirt at the bottom of the building. Rescue workers used chainsaws to cut through some of the larger beams to reach the injured and the dead.

City hospitals said that they were treating survivors for multiple abrasions, fractures and bruising. Sharolyn Medina, a doctor at Masonic hospital in Chicago, said several patients had driven themselves in for treatment or taken taxis. "I think all of them feel very lucky to be alive," she told CNN.

Larry Langford, a spokesman for Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said that, although the building dated back to the 19th century, the balconies appeared to be no more than a year old.

He described how the people on the top of the pile were at least risk as the balconies rammed into each other. "Someone on the third-floor porch when it fell could have theoretically ridden it down and stepped off uninjured," Mr Langford said.

It was Chicago's second disaster in five months. In February, a stampede at a large nightclub in Chicago's South Loop district claimed 21 lives. Clubbers were crushed to death when a crowd became trapped in a narrow staircase. The panic was set off by a club worker using a crowd-control spray to quell a fight. An investigation into that incident is still looking at the pattern of building code violations and the failure of city officials to enforce regulations, which contributed to the stampede.

The Chicago nightclub deaths came a few days before a fire in a nightclub in Rhode Island, in which more than 100 people died.

Permits Probed in Chicago Porch Collapse 

Associated Press Writer

June 30, 2003, 2:21 PM CDT

CHICAGO -- City officials Monday were investigating whether proper construction permits had been issued for a porch that collapsed, killing 12 people and injuring at least 57 others.

"At this time, we haven't seen any evidence of criminal activity that will lead us to seek charges," police spokesman David Bayless said.

The collapse happened about 12:30 a.m. Sunday in the city's affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood at a three-story building that was converted in 1998 from five apartment units to three. City officials said the third-floor wooden porch was apparently rebuilt at the same time.

City Building Commissioner Norma Reyes said permits were issued for the conversion work, but no construction permit has been found yet for the porch.

"We're not sure if they had the proper permit to put up the porch," said Breelyn Pete, spokeswoman for the Buildings Department.

A structural engineer conducted a preliminary examination and determined that the porch was sound before the collapse, Reyes said Sunday. City officials are investigating whether the porch gave way because it was overloaded.

The collapse has prompted questions about the safety of porches and whether weight limits should be posted.

As many as 50 people, most of them in their early 20s, were crammed onto the apartment's third-floor porch for a party when the floor dropped from under them, sending people and debris crashing to the ground.

Seven men and five women, many of them on the porches directly below, were killed.

The building's owner, who Reyes said was in Canada, and its management company did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

On Monday morning, 12 small, white wooden crosses were placed on the ground behind the apartment building, each bearing the name of one of the dead. Several bouquets of pink roses and white and lavender daisies were on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Northwest of Chicago, eight people were taken to the hospital after a deck on an apartment in Rockford collapsed Sunday night. Eleven people were on the deck when the deck gave way with a crack.
Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press


Dec 17, 2003 9:00 pm US/Central - 6 MONTHS LATER

The Chicago Porch Collapse

VIDEO: 48 Hours Investigates

(CBS) CHICAGO It was the first really warm summer night in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, and a group of kids, most just out of college, were looking to make the most of the night.

The bars and restaurants were packed, and if you weren’t out on the town, then you were likely to be partying out on the back porch of one of thousands of old row homes or apartment buildings in the area.

On June 29, 2003, there was only one party to be at – a two-story bash thrown by a group of young professionals who lived there.

“It was a good atmosphere,” recalls pediatric nurse Katie Main. “There was a really great group of people.”

But in less than 10 seconds, the carefree party would turn into chaos. Correspondent Maureen Maher reports.

“Everybody was just out having a good time. It was kids seeing each other for the first time over summer,” says Northern Illinois University football player Pat Raleigh, who was also at the party.

“Everybody was really friendly. Everybody was smiling,” says college student John Koranda, who was invited by his big brother, Rob, one of the party hosts.

Sisters Ingrid and Katie Sheriff had planned to go out together that night. But Ingrid couldn’t make it, so Katie went with other friends. The invitation promised a “Double Decker” evening.

“It was a huge porch,” says Raleigh and fellow football player Brad Cieslak. “It looked like it was newly built. It looked sturdy.”

But it wasn’t. Within seconds, one deck, packed with dozens of partygoers, collapsed onto another crowded deck, plunging as many as 100 people into a basement pit.

“Crack, crack, crack, crack,” recalls Paul Mugler. “I saw the beam tear away from the wall.”

“There was no warning,” says Koranda. “You just fell … Somehow I fell all the way to the bottom, and my shoulder was on the basement floor.”

Chicago special rescue unit firefighter Billy Lanham was first on the scene: “My first impression was, ‘Oh, my God!’ … We’ve got a big problem here.”

Cieslack says the porch collapsed just half a minute after he walked inside from the porch: “Helping me the best with that is not thinking about it.”

Mugler fell two floors and landed on top of the pile: “The screams came, just screams of terror, [I thought] just get off this pile, because there were people beneath me … You couldn’t see faces. You could just see hands trying to reach out and push whatever off them … Just grabbing for anything and just yelling for help, yelling for help.”

Koranda says he was buried alive underneath the pile: “I was laying on my side and I couldn’t move anything. All I could move was my hand, my left hand, which I tried to put on my mouth ‘cause I was just thinking that if something else falls … I can have a pocket to breathe.”

Raleigh and Cieslak ran downstairs and around the back. “People were covered up in boards. It looked like a bad nightmare,” says Raleigh.

“Pat got there before me - and he was already pulling stuff out - and then I jumped in and we were all just pulling as many boards out as possible,” adds Cieslak.

Still missing was their friend and teammate, 19-year-old Shea Fitzgerald.

Main, a nurse, immediately went to work: “I grabbed two people I didn’t even know to help me carry the cooler of ice and some blankets. I just knew that I’m a nurse, here we go, I can help.”

As Main helped the victims, many were still trapped in the massive pile of rubble, including Koranda.

“I was thinking about my brother the whole time,” says Koranda. “All it was was suffering pain and death. I can see it, I can hear it and smell it and definitely even taste it.”

Ingrid Sheriff was visiting her father in Milwaukee when she first heard the news. She wondered if it was the same party her sister Katie had wanted her to go to the night before.

“The first thing I did was pick up my cell phone and call her [Katie],” says Sheriff.

By morning, it became clear. A carefree porch party had collapsed into a killing field. Fifty-seven people were injured; 13 died in the collapse.

“They’re all gone. You just would never expect something like that to happen, ever,” says Main, who knows she’s lucky to have escaped unharmed. “I was on the second balcony the whole time. And I went inside, like, 10 minutes before it fell.”

“I knew I was on the bottom because I could feel my shoulder. So I just tried to relax and breathe,” says Koranda, who had fallen three stories and had been trapped under a mountain of debris. “You couldn’t move.”

After nearly an hour under the pile, rescuers finally pulled Koranda from the wreckage. Miraculously, he had only a few cuts and bruises. But that’s when his luck ran out. After the accident, no on had seen or heard from Koranda’s brother, Rob.

“I was actually in the car on the way home. Family friends were driving me, and they were making phone calls constantly. We were just leaving the city when they found out,” recalls Koranda, who discovered that his 23-year-old brother had died in the collapse. “He was easily my best friend, without question.”

The sheer senselessness of her son’s death haunts Sue Koranda: “I have a difficult time understanding how your life gets taken away like that.”

Ingrid Sheriff also spent the morning trying to find her sister, Katie: “We called an emergency line, they didn’t have anyone by her description, so we knew she hadn’t been admitted to any of the hospitals.”

Then, she got a call from the medical examiner’s office, and found out that her 23-year-old sister, Katie, was dead.

College football players Cieslak and Raleigh lost Fitzgerald, their teammate. He died in the basement, under the pile.

“He was somebody to model yourself after. He was the type of person you wanted to be like,” says Cieslak.

But what made this all the more tragic was that Chicago’s fire chief quickly announced that all these bright, young kids could have been responsible for their own deaths: “It appears to be a case of too many people in a small space.”

And the city’s building commissioner initially told reporters the five-year-old porch seemed well built.

“I have no indication of any substandard problems or insufficiencies with the porch at this time,” says Norma Reyes, the city’s building commissioner. “The buildings are not made for large assemblies and parties.”

But a more thorough city inspection discovered that the porch was riddled with building code violations. In fact, a 48 Hours investigation found that those defects dangerously weakened the whole porch structure. The partygoers never knew that when they stepped out on the porches last June, they were walking onto an accident waiting to happen.

48 Hours has also learned that all the porch’s floor beams were made with undersized lengths of wood, and the screws that ripped out of the wall during the collapse were shorter than they should have been.

“This occurrence was 100 percent preventable,” says Ken Koranda, John and Rob’s father. He adds that the size of the party wasn’t the problem. “If the porch was properly constructed, these porches would have held double the amount of people that were there.”

“It was built in a reckless fashion, that showed the lack of caring for the safety of the people that would be on this porch,” says lawyer David Kupets, who represents one of the accident victims.

How much weight should each deck have been able to hold?

“If you take, for example, the entire Chicago Bears team and you put them on that top deck, and then you take the entire Green Bay Packers, and you put them on that top deck,” says Kupets. “That porch system should have been able to hold both teams on each level.”

Plus, the porch was built illegally without a building permit. As a result, it was 50 percent bigger than allowed.

Phillip Pappas owns the building where the porch collapsed. After the accident, the city of Chicago sued Pappas, claiming 21 of his buildings had potentially dangerous porches.

Pappas refused 48 Hours’ repeated requests for an interview.

But, in documents his lawyer sent to 48 Hours’, it appears Pappas still blames overcrowding. In addition, Pappas cites a police report where two unnamed victims told a paramedic they saw young people jumping up and down on the deck just before the collapse – but neither of those witnesses has yet to come forward.

Recently, 48 Hours checked out some of Pappas’ other buildings, posing as prospective renters – and found new signs forbidding porch parties.

For instance, Pappas’ rental agent failed to mention was that one porch we were standing on had also been cited for serious code violations – and, according to the city, was in danger of collapsing at any time.

The weeks and months since the accident have seen funerals and memorials.
“People say God has a bigger plan for you – but that makes you wonder because all of these people that were killed, were amazing,” says Katie Main. “I don’t think it’s something that you ever move past. It’s affected me. You look at life differently.”

The Koranda family is also focusing on the future. They and 22 other families are in court fighting to prove an unsafe deck – not a overcrowded party – caused the deadliest porch accident in U.S. history.

“If today, our family can somehow make a change and make a difference so this won’t happen to other young adults -- to anyone,” says Sue Koranda, who says the family will fight on in memory of their son. “Rob always thought of his fellow man and their welfare, and that’s our responsibility now -- to carry on his legacy.”

Maureen Maher / 48 Hours Investigates


Chicago balcony collapse kills 12
Twelve people were killed in the US city of Chicago when a second-floor balcony collapsed during a party in an apartment building, authorities have confirmed.

More than 30 others were injured, several seriously.

Officials said the wooden balcony gave way after being overloaded with party-goers.

As it crashed to the ground, it pulled down the balconies beneath it, crushing and trapping people below.

Eleven people were pronounced dead at the scene and another victim died later in hospital, medical officials said.

Between 40 and 50 people were reportedly on the balcony at the time of the collapse, which happened at around midnight local time in the Wrigleyville area of the city's North Side.

One 24-year-old woman who survived the accident said she heard wood splitting just before she fell.

"I am just in shock, I was just hysterical. I am just beat up and I feel very lucky," the woman, who did not wish to be named, told PA News.

Floor 'dropped out'

The majority of people at the party are thought to have been in their early 20s.

Initial reports said they were students from a local university. However, one woman who attended the party told local television that many were former classmates at a nearby high school.

She said she was in the apartment's kitchen when the balcony collapsed.

"All of a sudden, I saw all these heads going down," she told Chicago's CLTV television station.

"The floor just dropped out from underneath them. They all went down in unison."

'Screaming and crying'

Witnesses reported seeing survivors desperately trying to pull victims from the mass of shattered wood and bodies.

Emergency workers used chainsaws to cut through debris in their efforts to rescue victims.

"There was chaos," said Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce. "There were people screaming and crying."

Authorities do not know what caused the collapse, but Mr Joyce said it might have been due to overcrowding.

Neighbours said the balconies, which are a common sight at the back of Chicago apartment buildings, were only built to withstand the weight of 20 to 30 people at a time.

The accident comes only a few months after 21 people died during a stampede at a Chicago club.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/06/29 16:20:46 GMT

Illinois: City Not Responsible in Porch Collapse, Court Finds

Published: August 2, 2007

The City of Chicago is not legally responsible for the 13 deaths and dozens of injuries in a porch collapse in 2003, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled. Victims and family members had sued the city in 38 suits. They said city inspectors had failed to act despite knowing that the porch, built without a permit and not complying with codes, was unsafe. The court said the city was not responsible for injuries on private property not in compliance with codes.


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